What I want to teach my kids about sex

I don’t know if anyone relishes having “the talk” with their kids, but Kate Harding’s spot-on rejection of the notion that casual sex is bad for women has inspired me to start making my list of discussion topics.  Harding deftly explains what I’ve always thought was inherently wrong about the traditional “guys want it and girls have to protect it” notion of sex:

But if we stopped looking at “hook-up culture” as intrinsically good or evil, then what about those young women Simmons and Bogle describe — the ones who feel pressured into accepting arrangements they don’t want? Well, here’s another thought: What if we focused on teaching girls to “act on desire and advocate for themselves sexually” instead of fretting about an entire generation being ruined by meaningless blow jobs, or longing for a time when the dating “rules” were simpler? (I suppose things were significantly less complicated when rape was a “bad date,” women were expected to decline sex even when they wanted it, the only acceptable options for pregnant teens were immediate marriage or temporary disappearance, reliable birth control was difficult to come by, ignorance about STIs was rampant, intimate partner violence was strictly a private matter between two people, etc. Sometimes — I’m just throwing this out there — a little additional complexity might not be a bad thing.)

via “Hook-up culture’s” bad rap – Sex – Salon.com.

What’s important about this piece is the positive outcome of sexual empowerment and the recognition that all people are not a) straight and b) dying to get married to the first eligible man they can con into putting a ring on it. What people are trying to do is find companionship but sadly it sounds like a lot are losing themselves in the process.

The problem facing these girls writing to Simmons is not that “hook-up culture” has completely destroyed dating, mutual respect, love and commitment. It’s that the girls in question don’t feel comfortable admitting what they want. They’ve been taught that saying “I want a relationship” or “I’m falling in love with you” will terrify any red-blooded American male — that is so not What Guys Want! — so young women who are interested in something more serious are terrified of being alone and completely unwanted if they say so. They’ve been taught to value male attention so much (if you’re hooking up, at least you can be reasonably certain someone thinks you’re pretty) and their own desires so little, that when they’re not getting enough out of a relationship, their first thought is “How can I change so he’ll want me more?” instead of, “Well, this isn’t working — I’m going to end it and look for a better match.” They’ve been taught that if they’re unhappy with a guy, it’s probably because they’re making Common Dating Mistakes, not because true compatibility is maddeningly uncommon — or because, get this, guys make mistakes, too.

via “Hook-up culture’s” bad rap – Sex – Salon.com.

Importantly, this isn’t just a discussion to have with my daughter as women don’t have the market cornered on the need to understand their own sexual and emotional needs. Furthermore, it’s an incredible disservice to bang the “he’s gotta’ have it” drum that reduces men into creatures who have no capacity for making a meaningful connection to another human being. Personally, I don’t know very many men like that and I certainly won’t raise my son to think that tired stereotype is accurate or acceptable.

I may not be looking forward to the awkward conversation (I’m all fired up right now, but when the time comes I’m sure I’ll be shaking nervously behind a giant text book with diagrams they can study in the privacy of their own rooms), but I am looking forward to teaching my kids that sex is not a one-size-fits-all condition and finding someone that shares their world outlook is much more exciting than “landing a man” or “getting some tail.”

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9 Responses to What I want to teach my kids about sex

  1. Caitlin Kelly says:

    It feels as though femininism never happened, as though women’s choice and exercise of sexual agency was all some long-lost mirage. This is nuts!

    This is all so deeply and profoundly alien, and sad, compared to the sexual freedom and feeling of power in our sexuality that so many of us (Canadian women, anyway) enjoyed in our 20s and 30s, and many still do.

    This fetishization of the male gaze and attention can only continue to devalue women’s (insistence on their own) pleasure. What a waste.

    Good luck.

  2. Ms. Peveteaux,

    Can’t people who write drivel like this hear themselves? The exact same thing was said about my generation and the generation before that. All of western civilization is collapsing due to the lack of moral character of the youth. In October 1940 there was a Gallup poll found that Americans viewed America’s youth (later to be called “The Greatest Generation”) “a flabby, pacifistic, yellow, cynical, discouraged, and a leftest lot”. Before that it was noted, “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint” by Hesiod in the 8th century BC.

    Do young people have more sex at earlier ages than preceding generations? Probably. Is it the end of the world? No. It is a change that we as parents need to recognize and take into account in our parenting, but it is nothing more.

    • robin27 says:

      I’m not sure you even read the article, because you seem to have missed out on the underlying issues.

      I thought this was a great article. I am someone who hopes that in the future I will have the bravery to discuss sexuality with my children openly and honestly, towards the ideal future in which they won’t spend as much time as I did wondering how to please people and instead try to please and respect themselves.

      As I interpret it, this is not an indictment of a younger generation, but thoughts on how to guide them through the minefield of adolescent pressures and desires, and the hope that we don’t continue to polish old stereotypes simply because we’re too embarrassed to discuss sex with our kids.

      • Hello Robin27,

        I had three children (two boys and girl) and my wife and I discussed sex plenty with them. The simple fact of the matter is that love and sex have always been difficult issues for people to come to terms with throughout history, really at any age but especially for the young. Why the young? Because they have no experience. At least us older folks have had time to make our mistakes and with any luck learn something useful from them. Teenagers have had little opportunity to get knocked down, brush themselves off, and move on. However none of this is anything new, it has been a problem for millennia. Read the Bible, the Greek tragedies and comedies, or Shakespeare, they are full of the complexities and complications of love and sex. The details are new but principals are as old. “There is nothing new under the sun”.

  3. willarm1 says:

    As a Stay at Home Dad with two young children, I am already fretting about the “SEX” issue. And everything else quite frankly. But I appreciate your viewpoints, especially that of Sex Ed not being so cut and dry. You are right it is a very complex issue that to many try to define with one word terms and catch phrases. I guess when it comes down to it, if we do our job correctly, our sons and daughters will grow with the correct amount of self respect and empathy to navigate the issues of the day. Which really haven’t changed all that much, But thats the underlying problem isn’t it?

  4. Marjie Killeen says:

    A lot of parents of teens think that talking objectively to their kids about sex is the same thing as encouraging them to “do it.” Teenagers already get plenty of encouragement from the media and society. They need to hear about it from us! And it’s not just a single “talk” – it should be an ongoing conversation.

    Sharing information with our kids – as well as our own values and opinions – helps them make better decisions for themselves. In the end, that’s what we all want.

    • April Peveteaux says:

      Right, Marjie. I feel like it’s a given that parents will talk to their children about the plumbing or rely on their child’s school to educate in this manner (although I realize now, it’s so not a given). My concern was more along the lines of teaching kids that part of sex education is understanding what you want and need and being able to stand up for those needs.

      I do believe if you teach children to really explore what is important to them and teach them to stand up for themselves they will avoid peer pressure, which may include having sex at an early age. The recent stats on the abstinence education program that focused on those elements rather than a religious argument proved that to be true.

      However, I really want my children (my daughter especially) to understand that sex is a wonderful thing that she should enjoy instead of withhold…if that’s what she chooses. When she’s mature enough – physically and emotionally – I want her to enjoy sex without shame.

      • Marjie Killeen says:

        April –
        When she’s ready to handle it, I want my daughter to feel that way too! Thanks for initiating this great discussion.

  5. carriem says:

    I’ve been trying to maintain an open line of communication with my daughter on all issues related to sex. A dialogue which has been going on, at an age appropriate level, since she was 7 or so.

    She’s almost 13. What I have found, is that because she knows she can come to me with questions, she directs them to me, rather than to her school friends. So… She’s asking, and getting information, as SHE is ready for it, not on anyone else’s timetable.

    You read about girls her age already having sex, dealing with pregnancies, etc… She just yesterday asked me to explain the terms masturbation and orgasm. Was it awkward to discuss? Of course. Was I happy that she was asking me, and not her school friends? Definitely. Is she a bit old to be asking? Maybe, but…. I think she’s only now ready for it. I would rather have her getting the right info later, than all sorts of nonsense when she’s too young to understand or process it.

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